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Telegrams Parmaxto. Rath. London


MAY 1936

No. 156


COSI fan Tutte

The Mozart Opera Society has followed up the brilliant completion of Le Nozze eli Figaro with an equally brilliant performance of a much less famous opera, the value of which to music is inestimable. Cosi fan Tutte was written in great haste at the end of 1789 and performed in Vienna for the first t ime on January 26th, 1790, Mozart's thirty-fourth birthday. I t did not meet with more than a moderate success. No doubt the closing of the opera house for nearly a couple of months that spring when Mozart's patron the Emperor Joseph II died militated against it, and i t was not played again in Vienna in Italian for sixty-four years. In England i t was played first with a translation by Arnold English in 1811, again in 1828, but i t was not played in Italian until 1848, when i t was well received. There was a revival at tbe Court Theatre eight years ago, but Covent Garden has not given a performance of i t during this century and, as Mr. \i\'alter Legge says in his admirable introduction to the libretto, " It has been left to Glyndebourne to open the ears, eyes and hearts of the Britisb public to COSt fan Tutte." One may hope that these three superh albums will record this exquisite opera as permanently in the heart of the British public as i t is recorded upon the matrices of these discs.

For a long time the opera suffered from the supposit ion of critics that i t was written too quickly to be really first-class music. Grove, for instance, says that "taken either as a whole or in detail, i t is unquestionably a falling ofT from the two previous operas." He then goes on to say that" Mozart was ill, had the Zauberf/dle in his head, and was deep in the Requiem, a combination of unfavourable circumstances, sufficient of itseH to preclude success." "Making due allowance for these facts," writes Rochlitz, "Mozart found himself compelled to take one of two courses, either to furnish a work of complete


mediocrity, or one in which the principal movements should be very good, and the less interesting ones treated lightly and in. accordance with popular taste; he wisely chose the latter alternative."

Grove's remarks show a complete misunderstanding, indeed a complete ignorance of the way creative imagination works. For all I know there may be evidence in Mozart's correspondence that Cosi fan Tutte was written against the grain while he was longing to get to work on a larger conception, but i t would be wrong to suppose therefore that this state of mind would afTect the quality of the pot-boiler. Actually the more urgent the need to make the pot boil the more brilliant is likely to be the creative artist's handling of his material. Nor is the necessity for rapid boiling anything but an advantage, for a work like Cos1 fan Tutte which demands the sustaining from start to finish of a single mood. I t is difficult to grasp the mental process of a critic who will not recognise the triumphant mastery over his musical material which IVlozart displays. I t might be objected that occasionally his parody of eighteenth-century sensibility achieves a beauty beyond anything achieved by the originals at whom he was laugbing; but this is surely the very flower and quintessence of perfect parody, and we must bear in mind the quality of the emotional expression of which he was making fun. I t would be impossible to imagine the creation of a perfect work of art deriding the crooners, or, as I should prefer to call them, the "creunuchs" of the passing mode of sensibility. The depths of human fatuity have been touched with crooning, and one cannot parody parody.

I f we leave Mozart's music on one side and consider Lorenzo da Ponte's libretto we shall find that, so far from deserving the contempt with which critics, mostly ignorant of Italian, have treated it, i t is in fact an extremely witty, well polished and perfectly